Cul8rallieg8r and the Panama Canallie


Tuesday of this week was our most unsuccessful day yet. Characteristic of all Tuesdays thus far, it took hours to find the monkeys. We hiked twelve miles before getting a faint signal far down the peninsula. We did get to see BCI’s other toucan species, and since no monkeys meant only trail hiking, the spiders in my face were kept to a minimum. 
Grace’s adviser, Meg, arrived this week to launch a full-scale darting operation on the island’s mammals. She’s funded to track the feeding habits of spider monkeys, capuchins, peckeries, coatis, and kinkajews (no idea how to spell any of those). Her and a man named Bob (aka the Devil to all the monkeys) will be darting and collaring these animals all week. Unfortunately for us, this means 5 am wake up calls and fourteen hour days in the field. I might be submitting my resignation and going to the beach.
One of the unique things the island teaches you is how to hold entire conversations while you and all participating members scratch various body parts vigorously without causing an interruption in dialogue. There’s a certain level of intimacy attained here when a cute scientist boy pulls up his pant leg to show you his blistering, bleeding chigger bites all over his ankles.
On my to-do list for this week is to learn to identify all snakes on BCI. I had a run-in with a snake on the stairs recently. Basically, we both made eye contact, I panicked, he didn’t, I fell down some stairs, he stayed, I was frozen in place for ten minutes, he was too, I’m trying out to be an Olympic high jumper for my tactics in escaping said snake, he is not. And that was all for a nonpoisonous snake, as I later found out, one of which I would not have been scared of.
On Thursday and Friday, Grace attended a class to learn the statistics language “R.” So on Thursday, I resorted to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort and spent a wonderful day at the pool drinking water with lime and mint.
On Friday, I took the boat to Gamboa, was offered (and accepted) a ride from a couple of workers taking trash away from the dock to the bus stop, took a ride on a Red Devil with few floorboards to Miraflores, and walked to the locks’ visitors center. I presented my Smithsonian ID (large lol that I have this), and was allowed to pay the $3 resident fee. I got there just in time to see the last Pacific-Atlantic boat cross, and then learned the next three hours would have no boats while we waited for the boats to finishing crossing the Culebra (the word for snake in Spanish) and allow the Atlantic-Pacific boats through.
Las Esculsas de Miraflores.
Having time to kill let me actually get to explore the museum. Last time, we thought it was a lame one-roomed exhibit. I discovered that there are actually four floors, and they get better as you go up, detailing the history, present, and future of the canal and the jungle around. The worst thing I learned though is that the jungle is still home to a horrible creature called a hawk tarantula wasp. Basically it looks like a tarantula with giant wings and a giant stinger. If I see one of those live in the jungle I will be immediately leaving for the USA. I also learned that the canal is one of the first massive uses of “modern” concrete in a construction application: a mixture of sand, gravel, and Portland cement. Which almost makes me wonder, were they just hoping it would work? Somehow I seriously doubt there was an intern sitting on the side doing cone tests and crushing cylinders. 
I’m also currently reading The Path Between The Seas by David McCullough. This is the most extensive account of the history of the Panama Canal, and is already fascinating and mildly horrifying. I’m only a couple hundred pages in and the accounts of the jungle terrify me and make me seriously regret moving to the midst of it all. It’s described as this massive, untamed beast, full of smaller beasts. Thankfully though, there isn’t yellow fever or malaria in these parts anymore. I thought it was only fitting to read this book at the canal locks when I live in the canal. 
Then I got to watch five more boats go through, including a little private sailboat, which would be the actual dream. On my way back, all of the cabs were severely overcharging so I just started marching along the road until I guilted one of them well enough to accept my price. One of the upsides of walking from the visitor’s center to the road was I got to see six or seven crocodiles on the way out just swimming happily in the river. The driver, Jose, ended up spending forty-five minutes telling me other facts about the canal and the expansion and doubles as a tour guide when he’s not taxi driving. So might be trying to get him to take me to the Gatun locks on my next day off.
Wildlife updates: We saw our first sloth, after weeks of searching one just arrives in the tree outside our office. I also saw my first aguti bottom puff. Meaning when a little aguti (like a giant rodent) panics, its bottom puffs up and kind of spikes until it’s twice the size and then it goes running away. I also survived a toad jumping onto my foot walking at night. I saw a bright turquoise wasp the size of my thumb. We saw a couple more bullet ants.

The island too is one of the only places where you can sit down at dinner and spend a full hour swapping stories of that time a caterpillar stung you or that friend you have who used to have a leech who lived up his nose or that person in your cohort who went it to have a cyst drained and instead the doctors discovered a worm or that time you had bedbugs and it resulted in your sister being taken to the hospital or the scientist who had a botfly and filmed its progress out of curiosity or the psycho who subjected himself to horrible insect bites to give us a scale from which we can compare (only two of these belong to me). Really great way to give yourself a little thrill and ensure the night is sleepless.

A SLOTH.
A butterfly.

The other kind of Toucan.
A crocodile. And a crocodile’s nostrils.

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